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Category Archives: Discipleship

Living the Sabbath Life

(a sermon for June 3, 2018, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, based on Mark 2:23-3:6)

I think it’s probably safe to say that we don’t observe the Sabbath the way we used to.

Actually, one of the mixed blessings of having been in the ministry as long as I have is that I’m able to see the difference; and I suspect there are a lot of you who can say the same!  Time was – and not so very long ago (!) – that Sundays were set aside as a true day of rest; a time for church, home, family and a bit of relaxation.  As a general rule businesses were shut down, and most stores were closed for the day; school activities – sports or otherwise – were prohibited; and if you were a kid, if you had something happening on a Sunday afternoon it usually involved a church youth group activity.  Depending on your own particular tradition of faith, you might not even have gone to the movies or played cards on a Sunday, because those were things that you simply did not do on the Lord’s Day (that; and because playing cards were at one time considered the “devil’s playthings!”).

Not that everyone always approached this as a wholly (and holy) Christian thing to do, or even something that was particularly religious in nature; it was simply understood that there ought to be a “Sabbath rest” from the burdens of the rest of the week’s work, all rooted in the creation story from Genesis in which God, overwhelmed from the glorious work of creation, exclaimed that “indeed, it was very good,” (1:31) and then “rested on the seventh day.” (2:2) From the very beginning, you see, the Sabbath was intended a blessing to us from God of both body and soul, and as such was to be thought of as holy.

Of course, you know what’s happened; actually a combination of things over time:  the repeal of the so-called “blue laws” that allowed every mall in the country to run full tilt all day on Sunday; the encroachment of more and more Sunday sports and other activities on the weekend landscape; as well as a changing economy that has fairly well mandated the necessity of a two-income family; and this is to say nothing of a culture and life that just keeps getting busier and more convoluted with every passing generation, to the point where church has become for many, a second or third choice, if it’s a choice at all!

And the thing is, it’s all happened very gradually, almost without notice.  I’ve always found it ironic that as a pastor, the Sabbath has always and ever been my busiest workday (!); but I must confess that over the years, little by little I’ve discovered that my “window of opportunity,” shall we say, for ministry on a Sunday has been slowly but steadily shrinking over the years; and that’s because there’s so much going on with people and families these days that there’s hardly room for anything else on a Sunday, much less more church activities!  Like I say, pastorally speaking, the Sabbath just ain’t what it used to be!

Now, I don’t say all of this to complain (well… mostly I don’t!), but simply to point out how much things have changed; and really, in this instance, only over about the past 30 years or so.  And yes, where Sundays and the life of the church are concerned, a lot of us – myself included, sometimes – feel like we’ve lost something sacred, and wish that things could go back to the way “it used to be.”  But that having been said, I also have to wonder… that if in the midst of all these changes to life and living it’s not so much that we’ve lost the Sabbath, but that maybe we’ve missed the point of it.

Because friends, as scripture describes it and proclaims it to the faithful, Sabbath isn’t meant primarily to be just another day off or an opportunity for a “time out;” it’s not to be thought of as a reward for a week’s worth of a job well done; it’s not even wholly about rest, at least not in the sense of an afternoon nap.  Sabbath is about much more than that: it’s about life, and within that life, faith. Sabbath is for the renewal of life – ours, yes, but also the life of all of creation – and it is for the sake of resilience so that each one of us is strengthened and empowered to do God’s work on Monday morning and every day that follows.  It’s about a true ministry of life, yours and mine; and to quote Karoline Lewis, “When the Sabbath is for the sake of life, then it means getting back in there and figuring out where life needs to happen.”

This is what lay at the heart of our text for this morning, two back to back stories from the 2nd chapter of Mark’s gospel in which Jesus has already begun to run afoul of the scribes and Pharisees; specifically, regarding the proper observance of the Sabbath.  First, we have Jesus and his disciples walking through “a field of ripe grain,” [The Message] and because they’re hungry and because it’s the only food available to them at the moment, the disciples start “pull[ing] off heads of grain” to eat.  This, of course, was a major breach of the Law regarding the Sabbath: not only was the work of picking the grain prohibited, so was their traveling through this grain field in the first place; and if that weren’t enough, so was eating food that hadn’t been prepared the day before!  Needless to say, the ancient laws of the Old Testament were quite rigid regarding how the Sabbath was to be observed; in fact, the book of Exodus points out that “everyone who profanes [the Sabbath] shall be put to death,” (17:14) and “whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people.” (Think about that as you go home today, friends!)

So here come the Pharisees, ever so quick to point this all out to Jesus, but Jesus is just as quick to remind them of a story about King David; how David had done something even more sacrilegious – stealing and eating bread from the temple that was reserved for the priests, and on the Sabbath, no less (!) – but how that was permissible because this was the one who was to be God’s anointed king, and the Law, however stringent, had to give way to need. Don’t you understand, Jesus says; don’t you get it?  “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath.” [The Message again] And then, in the most cutting response of all, Jesus adds, “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

The point is brought home almost immediately afterward, as Jesus arrives at the synagogue and meets a man whose hand is withered and who desires to be healed; and immediately a decision has to be made.  On the one hand, it would almost certainly be true that if the Pharisees discovered this “unclean” man in the temple, he would not be permitted to stay and would be denied any participation in worship.  On the other hand, however, if Jesus were to actually heal this man’s withered hand – and on the Sabbath – he’d just as certainly be further raising the ire of the religious authorities!

In the end, the right decision was clear; because once again, “The Sabbath was made for humankind,” not the other way around!  The need for love and mercy in that moment exceeded the need for the exact letter of the Law to be followed; and the opportunity for Jesus to bring this man healing was far more important than whatever chastisement would be brought upon him by the Pharisees for doing so.  And with those fuming scholars of Sabbath day correctness looking on, here is what Jesus says (as translated by The Message): “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best?  Doing good or doing evil?  Helping people or leaving them helpless?”

And how do they respond to this?  In every translation the reaction is the same:  they’re angry, but even as their hearts were hardened, nonetheless “they were silent.”  Because in the end, how do you dispute the wonder of a healing act?  How can you squash a miracle of grace on the basis of a technicality of law?  How do you argue with life?

Let us not misunderstand here; by this flagrant act of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus was not flaunting the authority of the Law.  We recognize this all through the gospels: that Jesus regarded God’s law as holy and insisted that that the faithful need “to know, revere, and follow the law.”  But, in words of David Lose, “as important as the law is, it is – and shall always be – a means to an end, a tool, a mechanism in service to a greater purpose.”  Jesus knew that following the law is not what makes us who we are as God’s children; it is meant to help us live wholly unto that identity no matter what, no matter how, and might I add in this case, no matter when.

And that’s a truth that, on this particular Sabbath day, continues on in us.

The fact is that despite the rapid pace of life as we know it in these crazy, convoluted times we have not lost the Sabbath.  You and I are blessed with the invitation and opportunity – indeed, the mandate – to seek the kind of rest, resilience and renewal that is infused with holiness.  But what we need to remember is that our observance of the Sabbath is not to be thought of as the end of this week’s journey of faithfulness, but rather a pause for reflection before the next week’s journey begins.  From the very beginning of our creation, you and I are called to be living the Sabbath life; but ultimately that has much less to do with our stepping away from what we do than it does with getting ready for what is yet to be done!  God created us to love and support one another; to extend to others the same kind of grace and mercy and encouragement as Jesus has given us; to love as fully and openly and as sacrificially we have been loved.  Everything we do (or choose not to do) to keep the Sabbath is the way that we seek to be restored in this wonderful and triumphant ministry of life that we all share.

And, by the way, don’t get me wrong here; speaking both as a child of God and your pastor I do believe, with all my heart (especially now as the more leisurely summer months are getting underway!) that living the Sabbath life does include sharing in “the act and attitude of Christian worship.”  Our coming together here every Sunday morning; our songs and prayers; our proclamation of God’s Word; our shared moments of laughter and tears and silence and fellowship and even the after-church refreshment:  all of it combines to offer up praise and thanksgiving to God Almighty, but also to prepare our bodies and our souls for the work that awaits us as disciples of Jesus Christ.  But then again, so does the time we get to spend today with our families, our friends and our other assorted loved ones; so does that opportunity that might just present itself, wherever we are this afternoon, to reach out to someone in need in any one of a multitude of ways; so does seizing a few private few moments of personal prayer and reflection while hiking, or fishing, or maybe even lounging outside in an Adirondack chair; so does, occasionally, a well-placed afternoon nap with the sound of the Red Sox playing  in the background.

We were made for the Sabbath, beloved; that’s what Jesus said.  So let’s make this Sabbath count for the something as we ready ourselves for the week ahead… and today, let’s start by feasting at the Lord’s table, that we might know Jesus’ presence in the bread and the wine.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Jesus Who Prays For Me

(a sermon for May 13, 2018, the 7th Sunday of Easter, based on  John 17:6-21)

What a feeling it is to realize that you have been prayed for.

It’s been almost 20 years now, but as you can imagine, the events surrounding our oldest son’s first surgery for the removal of a pituitary tumor are still indelibly etched in our family’s collective memory.  All of it: from the discovery, after a long search, of the tumor itself and the decision that something akin to brain surgery (the first of what turned out to be four such procedures over the next ten years or so) would be necessary to remove it; through the countless doctors’ appointments, consultations and follow-up visits; and leading up to all those horrible hours spent in hospital waiting rooms waiting for news.  It was a difficult situation, to say the very least; and this is to say nothing of the hard realization that all the medical advances in the world mean nothing when it’s your kid being wheeled into the operating room!

But that said I also have to say that what I also remember about that time was being awed, amazed and utterly humbled by the prayers being prayed for our son.  Now, we knew that our families and our friends would be praying for Jake as he was going through this, and that of course meant everything; and given not only that we were members of a close-knit church family but also that I was pastor of that congregation, we were very grateful to know that the church would be praying as well!  But I guess what was surprising was the depth, intensity and the utter expanse of that prayerfulness; as revealed by the women who gathered in the sanctuary on the morning of the surgery so that they could pray together at the exact moment the doctors were operating; or as evidenced by the prayers coming from the people in other churches in town, as well as from those at Jake’s school, others throughout the community and even from perfect strangers (!) who would came up to us in the supermarket to embrace us and let us know in a variety of ways that they’d been praying for us.

Friends, over the course of several months we got cards and letters from people we hadn’t heard from in forever or barely knew at all; and not only that, but also notes from churches out of town (and even out of state!) who wished us well and who wanted us to know that Jake’s name had been brought up in prayer concerns during morning worship!  I think my favorite, however, were the cards and pictures that came to us from an anonymous someone in Connecticut – we never did find out exactly who – but which was always signed by their cat, “Mittens;” as in, “Mittens is praying that Jake feels “purr-fect” very soon!”

It was amazing, it was uplifting… and it mattered.  It not only offered up to us a large measure of comfort and encouragement at a time when it was sorely needed, it also revealed something to us of the love of Christ in the midst of all our worry and stress.  All those prayers, no matter what their shape or form, made a real difference in our lives; it was such an incredible feeling, and so very important for us to know that our son was being prayed for; that Lisa and I and our whole family was being prayed for; and that there those out there who cared about us and who loved us and, moreover, who trusted God to hear them and respond to them as they prayed for us!

Those who have been there know what I mean when I say that this was life-affirming and in many ways, life-changing; and that’s why we should never underestimate the meaning of what we do together in our prayer time every Sunday morning.  There is power in prayer, and there is love expressed in the act of prayer; which is what makes it all the more remarkable to discover through our text for this morning that in the midst of those final moments just before the events of his crucifixion begin to unfold; even as, as David Lose puts it, he is “anticipating an immediate future that will include betrayal, trial, condemnation, beating, and execution,” Jesus stops everything to pray or those he loves… for his disciples… for those closest to him… and for you and me.

This passage from John’s gospel we’ve shared this morning continues on with what’s referred to as Jesus’ “farewell discourses,” but biblical scholars and church theologians often talk about these verses from the 17th chapter as being Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.”  This is a reference to Old Testament tradition, in which the temple priest would go into the “Holy of Holies,” which was the central-most part of the temple, so to offer up prayers of the people and bring a sacrifice as a payment for their sins.  In our Christian faith, of course, we understand that Jesus stands as a mediator between God and ourselves; offering up the one, true sacrifice – himself – as the final and complete payment for our sin before God.  So… the tradition of the church has always held that this prayer of Jesus in John’s gospel represents Jesus acting as our temple priest; quite literally standing before the throne of grace offering up prayers for his people in preparation for the sacrifice that’s to be made.

And that’s certainly true; in fact, these are verses central to our whole understanding of Christian theology; in particular the idea of Christ’s atonement for our sin, all for the sake of our salvation before God!  But I also have to say that because of how incredibly rich and dense the language in John can sometimes be, we can easily miss how very personal a prayer this is.  I mean, think of it; Jesus is speaking these words to his heavenly Father just prior to that moment in the garden when Judas and the soldiers come to arrest him.  Jesus knows that his hour is nigh, that very soon now he’s going to have to leave his disciples; and so he wants them to be prepared for what’s going to happen next.  Actually, you know, if you read all through these “farewell discourses” in John, you realize that up till this point, Jesus has been giving his disciples a whole series of last minute teachings – about his nature, about the sure and certain hope of life eternal, about peace that the world can’t give nor take away, and about the disciples’ own mission of love moving forward; three chapters’ worth of these teachings in John’s gospel (!) – but now, the lessons are done and in these last few moments before what’s destined to happen happens Jesus needs to pray for them!

And it makes sense; after all, these are the ones who have been the ones closest to Jesus, and these are the ones – whether they understand it or not at this point – who will carry on his ministry! Certainly Jesus wanted his disciples to have the protection and the assurance of God the Father in every uncertain moment that was to come to them, in the days and years to come.  So yes, he would pray for them, which in and of itself is an act of great love and affection; but – and this is important – it turns out that it’s not just the disciples that he’s praying for… Jesus is praying “not only on behalf of these” but also “on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,” (vs. 20)   and that includes you and me, “that they may all be one.”

And I don’t know about you, but the very idea of it fills me with awe: that the very same Jesus who in his moment of deepest despair would seize that time to pray for his disciples is also the Jesus who prays for me!

And what a prayer it is!   It’s certainly not a prayer that all will go easily for his disciples, because Jesus knew it wouldn’t; that it couldn’t!  It’s interesting to note that all throughout this prayer, Jesus talks about how the “world” that hated him would also hate his disciples “because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”  The Greek word that’s used here for “world” is kosmos, which more than just suggesting the physical nature of the earth, really means that which is totally alien and hostile to God’s intention to love and redeem all; in other words, Jesus knows that there will always be that “dark side” of humanity who will hate them simply because of who – and whose – they are!

So Jesus doesn’t pray that all will go along without incident, devoid of any difficulty or conflict in their lives ahead;  but rather that they, and we, might always be protected by the power of God’s name, “so they can be of one heart and mind” just as Jesus and his heavenly father were of one heart and mind.  And his prayers of intercession build from there: praying that more than simply having protection from their troubles, “they may have [his] joy made complete in themselves,” as they go forth with God’s word on their tongues and in their lives; praying that because of this they not be lost as Judas had been “so that scripture would be fulfilled;”   and praying finally, and above all, that they may be sanctified – that is, consecrated, made holy“in the truth;” which is God’s word.

And that’s important, too.

For what Jesus understood would be true for his first disciples would also be true for any of us who are followers of Christ: that the very nature of being his disciples, of adhering to the Word they’d received from him, would mean living their lives as outsiders, living “in the world but not of the world,” and yet because of this, having a clear purpose and mission for life itself; to be made holy for what we do, or as the word from the original Greek, hagios, suggests, to be “set apart for sacred use.”  Jesus – the Jesus who prays for me and for you – prays that in and through all our journeys and all our trials and all of our crises of life and even faith we might be set apart by God himself for sacred use!

It’s a big prayer; really, there’s no other way to describe it.  But in the end, you see, what it all comes down to is while that life is difficult, full of the unexpected, the unimaginable and very often the unmanageable, our Lord, in infinite love and care, has prayed – and is still praying – for us: that we might find the strength we need to get through; that we might glean joy in the midst of sorrow; and that we will be made aware in ways both large and small that we are not, and have never been alone in the struggle.  Jesus prays for us with the same constancy of care and compassion as that of the one who knows us the best; he shows us the deep and abiding love of God who brings to us life both abundant and eternal; and he assures us that even right here and right now, in the midst of it all, we’ve been set aside for a sacred purpose.

What a feeling it is to realize that you have been prayed for. 

I wonder what Jesus is praying for in us today.  Maybe that we find the strength, the encouragement or the patience to get through the stress and uncertainty of whatever it is we’re having to face at this moment; a medical issue, perhaps; or a “rough patch” in a relationship with a loved one, a friend or co-worker?  It could be that Jesus is praying that we find the courage we need to stand up in the face of injustice (both personal and societal), or that we might we finally get some sense of healing of mind, body, spirit… or all three at once.  Maybe he’s praying that we have the grace to receive and accept the forgiveness we’ve needed for so long; or else that we figure out that what we really need to do is to be more forgiving of others!  Maybe Jesus is simply praying that we’ll stop for a moment, and pay attention… pay attention to God’s presence and power, and remember how much we’re loved.

Whatever the need happens to be today, friends; know that Jesus already knows, and that he’s praying for you and for me; and that we are the recipients and the stewards of that truly amazing grace.

There is power in his prayer; there is power to comfort us, to strengthen us, and to move us through the joys and struggles of this life… and I pray that each one of us here today might be strengthened and renewed by the power of that prayer.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Friended

(a sermon for May 6, 2018, the 6th Sunday of Easter, based on John 15:9-17)

It was by far my least favorite part of elementary school, and it always happened just about this time of year.

Twice a week, you see, beginning in the 4th grade, there was “Gym Class;” and every spring, once the northern Maine snow had finally melted and the weather was warmer, our teacher would take us outdoors to a park across the street from school so we could play some kind of game, usually kickball as I recall.   Now that in and of itself wasn’t bad, nor was getting to go outside on a sunny day during school hours (!); but you see, this inevitably began with a schoolyard ritual that  was the worst possible affront to my self-esteem: it always had to start by “choosing up” teams!

Now, I’m sure you all did this in school, so you know the rules:  two people were chosen as team captains (in our case, assigned the role by our gym teacher), and each captain would in turn choose from the rest of the kids in the class who they wanted on their team.  And if you were strong and athletic, popular and/or friends with one of the captains you got chosen right away; but… if, like me, you were awkward and slow, most decidedly non-athletic or, to quote the late Jean Shepherd, one of the “nameless, faceless rabble of victims” in the elementary school jungle (!) then you ended up one of the last to be chosen; and even then, chosen reluctantly!  This was the scenario for me pretty much all through school, and though I hated it I pretty much accepted that my fate, as in the words of that Peter, Paul and Mary song, was usually to take up “my place in right field, watching the dandelions grow!”

Looking back, however, I realize it wasn’t always that way.  Sometimes our gym teacher would purposely choose one of the non-athletes in the class to be a captain, and then it became a matter of principle that the rest of us would be chosen swiftly for that team (it made for a rather one-sided kickball game, but it was all good!).  And then there were times when I suspect the captain in question was at least a good sport about it and made sure that the “least” weren’t picked “last.” But I especially remember how once our gym teacher chose someone as a captain who was in fact a kid I hung out with; and so, even though that kid knew firsthand how awful I was at kickball he still picked me first!  But whatever the reason was, you see, I didn’t care; I was happy just to be chosen, but even more than this, it was just so good to have a friend who would choose me!

Well, our gospel reading for this morning continues what is often referred to in scripture as Jesus’ “farewell discourses,” those things that our Savior said to those closest to him in the final moments just before all the events of betrayal and desertion that led up to the cross began to unfold.  And Jesus’ words are familiar to our ears, to be sure; just as in the imagery of vines and branches we heard about last week, there’s this on-going theme of connectedness and “abiding:” that “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love;” that keeping his commandments is the strong connection that keeps us abiding in his love; and that the central and most important commandment of them all is, Jesus says, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  In fact, Jesus goes on to say, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  And – here’s where things get really interesting – in the midst of all of this, Jesus says, “You are my friends… I do not call you servants any longer… I have called you friends… You did not choose me but I chose you.”

It’s an amazing distinction; especially when you consider who it was to whom Jesus was talking!   Robert R. Kruschwitz, the director for the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, writes that “Jesus’ first and closest disciples were on their best days easily distracted from their love of God, care for one another, and concern for their neighbors.  Some, like Judas, even grew to be wayward, rebellious and mean.”  In other words, whatever else one might have to say about the disciples, I think that we can agree that they weren’t exactly “first pick” material (!); they were, in fact, pretty much a ragtag group of local fishermen, tax collectors and a thief or two!  And yet, Kruschwitz goes on to say, “turning to all these would-be followers, Jesus explained his and the Father’s deep, sacrificial love for them” in telling them that he chose them, not the other way around; and that while the nature of their relationship might have suggested otherwise, Jesus was not calling them servants any longer but he has called them friends.

Understand that whatever the disciples did not understand about what Jesus was telling them or about what was about to happen as Maundy Thursday evening became Good Friday morning, they did know that the very idea that Jesus was now referring to them as friends was… unprecedented and, as I said before, amazing!   To begin with, in Jesus’ time, friendship was a serious matter. To be considered a friend was to be in a position of honor; it meant being treated as one would treat a loved one.  Likewise, to be a friend meant looking out for the welfare of the other and to put the other’s needs on an equal footing with one’s own.

All of this is borne out in the language that Jesus uses here, which is very specific: as John’s gospel records it, there are actually two words used here for love:  agape, which is the Greek word for full, self-giving and sacrificial love, and philos, which is usually translated in English as “friend,” but is probably more accurately rendered as “loved one.”  So, you see, what Jesus is saying is that “I love you (agape) with everything that I have to give, because you are my (philos) loved one!”   That’s the context, you see, by which Jesus proclaims that “no one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” and that is the criteria by which he calls us friend.

For the good news is that just as was true for the disciples before us, we too have been “friended” by Jesus.  You and I have been chosen by Jesus himself to have a relationship, deep and intimate, with the divine; in Jesus we come to know everything we need to know about God, and through Jesus, who is our friend, each one of us is appointed to “go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

And that’s important; because remember, the kind of friendship we’re talking about here is by its very nature reciprocal.  In other words, as Jesus calls us friend, we are called to be a friend of Jesus.

This is actually the place where we often stumble on this particular passage; after all, as you may have noticed, there are a few “if’s” in these verses that come into play:  “IF you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love… You are my friends IF you do what I command you.”  At first read, it kind of suggests that this friendship with Jesus is conditional in nature; that if we don’t behave ourselves Jesus will withhold that friendship, or even worse stop loving us!  And if that’s the case; truly, as Scott Hoezee writes in an essay on this passage, “if the soundness and consistency of my love is the key to being in good with God and with Jesus, then I [would have] good reason to be afraid of my eternal destiny.”   Thanks be to God, then, that this is not the nature of our friendship with Jesus, nor its requirement; it is, in fact, our response!  “These injunctions to love,” writes Hoezee, “… are for those already in the love of God!”

Not that our response to having been friended is any less important: I actually love the analogy that Hoezee makes for this; he describes our need to respond to Jesus’ friendship as to what happens – or what should happen (!) – in marriage!  He writes that “being married – and being genuinely in love within that marriage – does not absolve one of the need to be faithful, to do loving acts, to tend and nurture the marriage relationship in very active ways.  The solid marriage and the carrying out of vital marriage tasks are not at odds with each other.  Only a fool would say, ‘Because my marriage is sound, I don’t have to do a blessed thing to nourish and nurture the relationship.’”  In other words, you respond to the love you’re given by giving love in kind; and even though we are commanded by Jesus to love one another as Jesus has loved us, it’s nothing that can be forced.  However, “it’s the kind of thing that those who truly love Jesus are only too glad to do,” and it only begins to make sense when you are connected – when you abide – in Jesus.

You know, all these years later I still think back on those days when I’d actually be chosen – and not chosen last (!) – to play on my friend’s kickball team; and how good that felt.  Granted, I was still not, to say the very least, a strong player; in fact, I somehow always managed to be the one who always dropped the ball or who perennially was the one who made the third out!  But in retrospect, I realize that my inability to properly play the game was far less important than the fact that I was welcomed into the game; and that I’d been encouraged to be a part of it through someone who truly knew me and cared about me.  It also encouraged me to try and offer up the kind of friendship that had been given to me; which seems to me, at least in sixth grade parlance, to creating an atmosphere of philos, if not agape!

Well, this is who Jesus is, beloved; the one who binds our hearts to his; the one who loves and forgives us our weaknesses and shortcomings; the one who tells us, again and again, that we should try our best to live and abide in love, and then trust him with everything else; the one who encourages us to draw upon his strength, his hope, his love, and his Spirit to empower and sustain us.

For he – Jesus Christ – is the one who sought us out, and who chose us to be with him.  He is the one who calls us “friend,” and who calls us to the same kind of friendship.

Beloved, let us come now to the table of the Lord to truly know our friend in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup…

…and may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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